Encourage Participation

Meaningful interactions are an essential part of an effective teaching environment. Class communication can be divided into three primary channels: instructor to a student; student to student; and student to instructor. As you develop your syllabus and plan classroom activities, be sure to clarify regularly your expectations about how you want students to engage with each channel.


Following these guidelines will help you and your students to develop efficient and clear channels of communication that will foster a positive learning experience.

Communicating with your students

As the instructor, you set the tone of communication for the entire class, both in-person and online. Communicating regularly and meaningfully makes the difference between an engaged and a disengaged student. Review the GOLD Resource Guide for Communication for more details about your communication options. 

Synchronous communication with students

Here are a few guidelines and suggestions to facilitate communication with your students during times when you are meeting together.

Make sure there are open lines of communication between yourself, the in-person students, and the online students at the start of each class session.

  • Ensure that you go over some rules of the road for online and in-person students. Many students don't adhere to online etiquette unless coached. Not doing so can create distractions for everyone.
  • Repeat questions from in-person students so that online learners can clearly hear them and be engaged in the conversation.
  • Call on students from the online group to respond to questions. Their web mic will make it easy for everyone in the class to hear them.
  • Discourage in-class students from logging in to Zoom in the classroom. Unless students remember to mute their microphones, there is a possibility of creating painful audio feedback.

Survey your class regularly to find out what kinds of activities work best for them and in what ways you can improve.

Asynchronous communication with students

Communicating with your students outside of regularly scheduled class periods is a vital part of establishing the trust and sense of community necessary for an effective teaching environment. Here are some suggestions for ways to increase your teaching presence during these periods.

  • Canvas Announcements(Canvas video) - Use the Announcements tool to provide timely reminders before and after class about assignments, due dates, etc. Announcements can help prep students for the day's synchronous session as well as recap, reinforce, and clarify important ideas that were revealed in-class activities and discussions. Creative use of announcements offers you an additional modality to express your personality to students and increase their level of engagement.
  • Canvas Discussions(Canvas video) - Monitor and contribute regularly to any discussion activities you create. Your contributions make clear that you are meaningfully engaged with your students and are an additional opportunity to guide them towards the most important aspects of course content. Referring to specific discussion threads and their authors in synchronous class sessions make it clear that you value that learning activity and demonstrates its utility for students.

When using Zoom or WebEx, make sure you record your lectures and class sessions.  It helps all students to go back and review the material.  Additionally, online students sometimes have technology glitches and have to drop off the meeting.

Facilitating communication between students

Student to student communication is one of the primary ways in which course content is meaningfully constructed by students. Use all of the tools at your disposal to get students engaged with one another synchronously and asynchronously.

Synchronous communication between students

During class time, maximize students' engagement with one another and minimize the amount of time in which the instructor is relaying information in a one-way direction at students. This will help students to feel that class time is valuable because their individual presence (in-person or virtual) is vital to the classroom experience.

  • If possible, have the students in the class visible to those online and vice-versa.
  • Try to organize class time around learning activities in which students are actively engaged with one another.
  • Use breakout rooms (in WebEx Training or Zoom Meetings) so online students can participate in group work.
  • Use Canvas Collaborations for collaborative work (Google Drive is another option). 

Asynchronous communication between students

There are a number of tools within Canvas that can enable students to engage with one another one on one, in small groups, and as a class. Carefully applying the appropriate tool to the task at hand will enliven students' engagement with one another.

  • Canvas Announcements(Canvas video) - While the Announcements tool is principally used for faculty to student communication, it can also be set to allow comments and 'likes' from students. If you post a reminder about an assignment, enabling these commenting features allows a space for students to communicate their questions in a public forum which can reduce the number of emails you receive and help to build consensus around your expectations.
  • Canvas Discussions(Canvas video) - The Discussions tool allows students to develop their ideas as a community. Discussions can be used informally to allow for low stakes development of ideas. Discussions can be used effectively for peer-to-peer learning (EX: have students upload a first draft of an essay and provide peer feedback to one another). Providing clear expectations in the form of a discussion post rubric to students can ensure that they create a thoughtful, well-documented dialogue that directly relates to course content. Remember to monitor and contribute regularly to any discussion activity you create.
  • Canvas Peer Review(Canvas article) - This feature for Canvas Assignments allows for peer critique of selected work. Peer combinations can be assigned by the instructor or created randomly by Canvas.

Return to the Fall 2020 Online Resource Guide